Why Good Employees Leave — and What You Can do About It

Learn the tools and tactics you can use to keep your most valuable assets from switching jobs.

learn more about Nate Schelhaas

By Nate Schelhaas

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Did you lose a key employee in the last year or two?

If so, you're not alone: 47 million people quit their jobs last year, even as the unemployment rate fell nearly to its pre-pandemic low.

It turns out that all these people who quit didn't leave the workforce, though. They're participants in what some are calling the Great Swap. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who left one job went to another for better pay, improved benefits, opportunities for growth, or a different career altogether.

It's a trend with staying power: United States employee voluntary turnover is expected to increase by 20% this year, according to a study from Gartner. That's why it's even more important to do what you can when you can to keep valued employees from leaving. Here are some ideas.

Create clear job paths

Good employees want to learn, improve, and, sometimes, add leadership responsibilities. That was true before the pandemic, and it's true now. Daily frustrations can quickly morph into job searches, especially in sought-after fields such as information technology.

You can address this by creating clear job trajectories for every position in your business. Those may include leadership and non-leadership tracks; not every employee wants to be a manager. Articulate necessary skills and offer training opportunities, too. In addition, when you look to fill a position, pay attention to internal candidates who may be interested not only in growth in their own field, but in switching fields entirely.

Invest in your most valuable employees

You have people who you can't afford to lose, and people who you see as rising talent, too. Focus your efforts on those groups first to ensure they come back day after day. That may include unique compensation and benefits packages such as nonqualified deferred compensation that incentivizes longevity.

Update your compensation and benefits

Post-pandemic, your approach to compensation can't just reflect local salaries and wages.

Think of it this way: It isn't just that jobs are easier to change. It's that jobs are easier to change across the country, without ever moving. Your employee may no longer have to live in New York City to take a job with a New York City-based business. That business may have a very different pay structure than yours — one that you suddenly must compete with. In addition, members of today's workforce, particularly millennials and Generation Z, are much more open to changing jobs (and often changing careers).

Those pressures demand that businesses take a more flexible approach to benefits, too. Continuously engage with employees to find out what motivates them versus what you think might be important. Design your packages around the former, not the latter.

Evaluate what your peers are doing

What is your industry experiencing, and what are other small businesses going through when it comes to retention? Reach out through professional associations and local groups so you can find out what's working (and what's not).

Nurture your company culture

Does compensation drive quits more than culture? Turns out, no: A toxic corporate culture influences attrition at 10 times the rate of wages and salaries, according to research by the MIT Sloan School of Management. By creating a company culture that offers true inclusivity, challenges, and rewards, you'll be in a better position to keep your employees from walking out the door.

You're busy running your business today. Get help planning for tomorrow at principal.com/benefits.

This article is intended to be educational in nature and is not intended to be taken as a recommendation.

Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Company®. Plan administrative services offered by Principal Life. Principal Funds, Inc. is distributed by Principal Funds Distributor, Inc. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., member SIPC and/or independent broker/dealers. Referenced companies are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392. ©2022 Principal Financial Services, Inc.


Nate Schelhaas

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Senior Vice President of Life Protection Solutions for Principal®

Nate Schelhaas is a senior vice president and actuary­, head of life protection solutions at Principal®, a global financial investment management and insurance company headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, that offers small and midsize businesses, institutions, and individuals the benefits and retirement solutions they need to help build financial security.

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